Something “wrong” with the air?

Old-Fashioned Boston Fern

Muggy. Overcast. Rain promised? We’ll see. The air feels heavy. Years ago, I used to complain that “there’s something wrong with the air,” and my little James asked, “What’s wrong with the air, Mommy?” When he was a teen with a year or so of earth science stored in his head, he explained that it was barometric pressure. The air was heavy.

Of course, that’s what was “wrong.” Thanks, son. Doesn’t make it any better, knowing, but I can understand.

In the meantime, the gardens here are developing into a veritable jungle from triple digit heat but no humidity. Yet my porch ferns in their pots thrive so long as I keep them well watered in shade with bright indirect light. It’s been a good year for these Boston ferns, ever popular since Victorian times when a Boston florist received a shipment of 200 hundred plants. He began to propagate the fern plant in 1894 and sold them as parlor ferns — hence the name, “Boston fern” — which help to cleanse and freshen the air inside.

Boston fern prefers rich organic soils of compost, mulch, or finely chopped bark. After all, they originated on forest floors. European and North American gardeners forayed into local forests to gather the lacy fronds. Fern-gathering day was a major event and collectors usually carried a picnic lunch and enjoyed the outing. Nearly every home housed at least one potted fern, often in a front bay window or a sun porch.

Boston fern in front window

My grandmother Nedley hung several Boston ferns along the roof line of her front porch in Apalachicola, while inside she kept a large frilly Maidenhair fern on an oak stand painted grey.

Southern Maidenhair Fern

When she moved to live with us in Pensacola, she brought the Maidenhair with her and kept it in the inside corner of a much small front porch. I have fond memories of her “fussing” over delicate fronds, checking soil moisture, and humming to herself. It thrived for decades.

Delicate fronds of the
Southern Maidenhair fern ~ Adiantum capillus ~ veneris

From my grandmama Nedley, I inherited her love of house plants, especially these two favorite ferns, along with a variety of window box geraniums and something called a daddy-long-legs. Or is that a spider?

NOTE: In my research for this article, I can across a century-old fern still thriving. Amazing!

“Evelyn Good Kingan Edwards of Newport News, Va., has an 114-year-old Boston fern that’s been in their family for all that time, handed down through generations. Daily misting and regular feedings of Miracle-Gro help maintain its good looks . . . . Evelyn’s fern is a division taken from the original plant her grandmother, Marietta Good, born 1870, started when she was a young woman. Family photos throughout the years show potted pieces of the fern on front porches and in front of young women in the family, including Evelyn’s mother, Ollie May Kingan, born 1895.”


PUBLISHED: November 30, 2007 at 12:27 p.m. | UPDATED: August 15, 2016 


Celebrating just over fifty years of holy matrimony, I am blessed to be a mother of two and grandmother of seven. Much of my writing speaks to the culture and tradition of the Deep South, where I spent the first thirty-five years of my life before relocating to the Pacific Northwest. As a poet and essayist, I’ve published both online and in print media. I launched this INVITATION TO THE GARDEN blog the summer of 2017 on I look forward to hearing your stories, too!

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